So I get these LivingSocial emails every day, offering me deals on stuff that I probably wouldn’t normally buy. The deals are usually really good, like “pay $20 and get $4,000 to spend at weonlyselltotallyawesomestuff.com!” I try not to get sucked in to the excitement of it all, but it’s really hard not to.
A recent email offered 50% off art classes at a local studio. A good deal, to be sure, but I saw it and laughed out loud. Do you sense a story coming on? I sure do!
Way back in the dark ages, meaning before kids, I decided to take an art class. After grade school, instruction in the visual arts was a gaping hole in my education. I was a musician and only did musical things. While my non-musical friends went off to Drawing I, I went to band or choir. When they went to Drawing II, I went to band or choir. When they went to Painting, I went to band or choir. When they went to Alternative Mediums: Trash, I went to band. Or choir.
I’d always regretted my lack of art instruction, and then around 2003, I saw some adult art classes listed in a catalog from the local recreation & education organization. I eagerly signed up for “Introduction to Drawing and Painting” and then waited impatiently for the class to start. I was POSITIVE there was a frustrated artist inside just waiting to get out. I was a fantastic doodler; how could that not translate into artistic greatness? My doodles generally consisted of women’s eyes and various types of leaves (fern, oak, maple), but I was sure that I was capable of so much more.
The class finally started. It was taught by a sweet elderly gentleman named Robert. He taught a cartooning class to adolescents right before the adult flunky class. I was heartened on the first day to see him speaking encouragingly to his young cartooning students as they packed up their projects and belongings. “You really nailed that bird’s facial expression!” he said to one boy, patting him on the shoulder. “With a little more work next week, that mouse is really going to be perfect,” he said to another.
The first day, we worked on drawing some simple forms. Simple for some people, I should say. The perfectionist next to me with the steady hand drew her cup and bowl with exacting precision, while my cup and bowl looked more like an urn next to a beach ball. Robert tried to help, but I couldn’t even carry out the simplest of his suggested revisions with anything even approaching accuracy. Undeterred, I came back week after week, optimistic that this time, it was all going to come together.
My drawings looked like they’d been done by a 6-year-old. While Robert was duly impressed by my prowess with creepy disembodied eyeballs and tree-less leaves, I seemed incapable of much else. I found watercolors to be impossible to control. I thought acrylics would be easier, but I was wrong. The only bit of “success” I had was with pastels. One Saturday morning, I managed to scrawl a comparably spectacular lily on a blue background. Robert even uttered, “Hooray!” and gave me a congratulatory pat. I was so excited that I had produced something recognizable that I went out and got an acrylic frame and thought I might hang it on an actual wall. But when I started holding it up in potential hanging spots in the house, I realized that I really didn’t want to look at that thing every day. I tried to blame the walls first, then the rooms, but in the end, it was the picture that was the problem.
Never one to be discouraged, I signed up for a second 6-week session of the class once the first session ended. When he saw me walk in on the first day, I caught the look of exhaustion mixed with acid indigestion and anxiety that washed over poor Robert’s face. To his credit, he made a speedy recovery and was able to greet me cheerily. Maybe he hoped, as I did, that I would do better the second time. But I didn’t.
My artistic disability was kept secret until recently, when Benjamin started wanting us to draw dinosaurs all the time. I would try pretty hard; I’d say, “Bring me the figurine of the dinosaur you want me to draw, and I’ll give it a shot.” When I was finished, I’d proudly present my work to the boy. “There! What do you think?” He’d say, “Mama, the T. Rex didn’t have wings,” or “Mama, a Diplodocus had FOUR legs, not three.” I’d respond, “Those aren’t wings, that’s his knee!” or “There ARE four legs, see?” Eventually he’d sigh heavily and say, “I’ll just ask Daddy to draw it later.”
At first it made me feel bad, but now I realize my incompetence has bought me hours of time that otherwise would’ve been spent drawing frills and horns on a Triceratops.
Once in a blue moon, mediocrity really pays off.